Brief

Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University to sever relationship with Hillsdale charter school

By: - October 26, 2022 1:54 pm
Screenshot from Hillsdale's 'Teaching for Virtue | K-12 Classical Education' video on the Lake Country Classical Academy website | YouTube

Screenshot from Hillsdale’s ‘Teaching for Virtue | K-12 Classical Education’ video on the Lake Country Classical Academy website | via YouTube

The Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University (LCOOU) Authorizing Board says it will end its affiliation with an Oconomowoc charter school affiliated with Hillsdale College unless the school renounces reported racist and derogatory comments made  by Hillsdale’s president, Larry Arnn.

The tribal university notified leaders of Lake Country Classical Academy (LCCA) that unless the charter school meets certain conditions, the university will let its contract to authorize the school lapse in June, according to a statement on the university’s website.

The conditions under which the university is willing to consider renewing the school, according to the statement, are that the school “publicly and immediately denounce the June 2022 racist and derogatory comments made by Hillsdale President Larry Arnn.”

“His remarks and the 1776 curriculum run contrary to our Mission and our contractual relationship,” the University’s statement continues.

Among the conditions of a continuing relationship between the tribal university and the charter school are that LCCA “end its relationship with Hillsdale College, Barney Charter School Initiative (BCSI), and any and all other Hillsdale affiliations by December 30, 2022.”

In addition, LCCA board members, administrators and teachers will be “required to attend Ojibwe/indigenous cultural training with an LCOOU approved provider by December 6, 2022 and submit evidence to the University Board this requirement is met.”

The statement renouncing Hillsdale came out the day after an Oct. 3 report in the Examiner on Arnn’s statements and the ensuing controversy surrounding proposed Hillsdale-affiliated charters in Tennessee.

In December 2021, the Examiner covered the launch of LCCA, Wisconsin’s first Hillsdale charter, under the supervision of the  LCO Ojibwe University after the academy was repeatedly turned down by other charter authorizers:   “How a Wisconsin tribe helped launch a Trump-approved Make America Great Again charter school”.

Using the Hillsdale curriculum, LCCA emphasizes the greatness of the United States’ Western European roots, “taught with an emphasis on the history and traditions of American citizens as the inheritors of Western civilization,” LCCA’s  website explains.

According to the tribal college’s statement on severing its relationship with the charter school, “LCCA throughout the charter school application process repeatedly assured the University Board that it was using the classical curriculum only and not the controversial 1776 curriculum that whitewashes or eliminates certain aspects of history especially as it relates to racial conflict.”

There is no easily detected difference between the classical curriculum taught at Hillsdale-affiliated charters and Hillsdale’s 1776 curriculum, a collection of lesson plans for K-12 students developed by Arnn, who chaired the 1776 Commission during the administration of Donald Trump, an initiative that aimed to restore “patriotic education” in schools.

Plans for several new Hillsdale-affiliated charter schools in Tennessee fell through after a secret recording surfaced of a reception for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in which Arnn made his controversial statements.

Among the controversial remarks Arnn made in the recording were attacks on teacher preparation at U.S. universities: “The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country,” and “Now, because they are appointing all these diversity officers, what are their degrees in? Education. It’s easy. You don’t have to know anything.”

Additional reporting around the time of the secret recording also found that the Hillsdale curriculum teaches that the civil rights movement veered from the true intentions of the nation’s founders, and that Arnn had stated that “highly-charged subjects like racism and sexuality… should be broached, not by teachers, but by the child’s own parents.”

It was the Tennessee recording that apparently prompted the LCCOU board to vote to sever its ties with Lake Country Classical Academy on Oct. 4, unless the school renounces Arnn’s statements. 

Hillsdale-affiliated charter schools in Tennessee have claimed they are separate from Hillsdale College, the conservative Christian school Arnn leads in Michigan. But a report by Tennessee’s News Channel 5 found that Arnn took credit for creating the separate charter school management organization that runs the schools and for personally hiring its CEO. Curriculum support, professional development, oversight, and staffing are also tied directly to Hillsdale.

In Wisconsin, Lake Country Classical Academy opened in September 2021 in the Milwaukee suburb of Oconomowoc. After shopping the charter school to other authorizers and being rejected, LCCA turned to the Ojibwe college, which agreed to allow it to open. A PowerPoint presentation at an LCCA open house on Dec. 2 included a slide on “what makes LCCA a Hillsdale College Member School.” Point No. 1: “The centrality of the Western tradition in the study of history, literature, philosophy and the fine arts.”

The Frequently Asked Questions page on LCCA’s  website poses the question “I understand that LCCA is authorized by the LCO Ojibwe College. Will there be a Native American influence in LCCA’s curriculum?”

Answer: “We will stay true to our Hillsdale K-12 classical curriculum, which is already rich in American History which began with the first Americans — the Native Americans.”

As a condition of authorizing the school, LCCOU also required the school to provide a supplemental curriculum on Native American people with a focus on Ojibwe and other Wisconsin tribes. 

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Her book "Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers" won the 2022 Studs and Ida Terkel Award from The New Press.

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